CULT CLASSIC: HAL BRADBURY-THIS IS LOVE.

Cult Classic: Hal Bradbury-This Is Love.

During the late-seventies and early eighties the Hawaiian music scene was thriving, and  generation of artists were making a name for themselves. Many of these artists would go onto release albums. Everyone from songwriters, session musicians and owners of recording studios were enjoying the benefits of the mini-boom. However, much of the music coming out of Hawaii was influenced by the Laurel Canyon sound.

From the mid-seventies onwards, the West Coast of America was the place to be musically. Especially Laurel Canyon. This was home to some of the most successful singer songwriters, including James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Carole King. This group of singers were releasing some of the most successful music of the seventies. It was christened “the Laurel Canyon sound.” Unsurprisingly, the success of the Laurel Canyon sound influenced singers all over the world. This included in Hawaii.

One of these artists was Hal Bradbury who had been a member of The Fabulous Krush. They were one of the most successful Hawaiian groups and were described as ”charismatic, dynamic and superbly talented.” The group were purveyors of “good, clean fun and a happy wholesome entertainment.” Soon, The Fabulous Krush were enjoying commercial success with singles Blame it on the Night, Take Me to the Mountain, Waialua Sky and Hold Tight. They also released their debut album Fabulous Krush in 1979. Before long, they were Hawaii’s favourite band

Two years later, in 1981 The Fabulous Krush won the prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for album of the year and most promising artist. It seemed that they were on their way to becoming one of Hawaii’s most successful musical exports. Then one of the lead singers dropped a bombshell. Hal Bradbury announced he was leaving to pursue a solo career.

Changes in The Fabulous Krush’s lineup were nothing new. This had been the case since the group’s formed. However, surely not now? The Fabulous Krush were on the verge of something big. Hal Bradbury decided now was the time to pursue his solo career. He haad released a single This Is Love in 1980 on Fan Records. The following year, 1981, Hal Bradbury released his debut album This Is Love on Fan Records.

This Is Love is one of the rarest Hawaiian records of all time. Indeed, it’s one of the rarest record per se. For many crate diggers, a copy of This Is Love is the Holy Grail. They lust over the thought of unearthing a copy. However, they’d need deep pockets to afford  what’s been described as: “a masterpiece of Modern Soul and AOR” which was Hal Bradbury’s debut album.

This Is Love is a mixture of cover versions and songs written by Hal. He contributes three songs, Call Me, Babe I Want You and You Send Me. There’s also covers of Sam Cooke’s You Send Me, Lennon and McCartney’s She’s A Woman and the Arlene Matza and Guy Thomas penned You Win I Lose. There’s Peter Allen’s This Time Around, Johnny Slate and Danny Morrison’s Friends and the Tepper and Sunshine composition This Is Love. The other track was By Now, which Don Primmer, Charles Quillen and Dean Dillon. These tracks became Hal Bradbury’s debut album This Is Love.

Recording of Hal Bradbury’s debut album This Is Love took place at Sounds Of Hawaii. Producing This Is Love was Jimmy Funai. The band featured a rhythm section of drummer Mike Kennedy, bassist Bruce Hamada Jr, and guitarist Jimmy Funai. Alan Leong, Kimo Cornwell and Glen Goto played keyboards and sythns, while Mike Lewis played trumpet and Bob Winn saxophone. Backing vocals came courtesy of Bonnie Gearheart, Rachel Gonzales and Kevin I. Once This Is Love was recorded it was released in 1981.

On the release of This Is Love on Fan Records, the album sold reasonably well in Hawaii. This Is it wasn’t a success in the rest of America, where Hawaiian music was popular. Since then, This Is It has been reappraised and is perceived as “a masterpiece of Modern Soul and AOR.” Here’s why.

Just a wistful Fender Rhodes opens This Is Love, the title-track from Hal Bradbury’s debut album. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds, accompanying Hal’s lovestruck vocal. A piano, drum and sweeping harmonies join Hal’s. Bells ring, harmonies coo and the drums add to the drama. Hal delivers a heartfelt, needy vocal. Then at just the right time, the baton passes to the sultriest of saxophone solos. Not only is this the finishing touch to the arrangement, but seems to spur a lovestruck Hal to even greater heights of soulfulness.

From the AOR and soul of the opening track, Hal mixes funk and soul on Call Me. His vocal is needy and urgent. Cooing harmonies float above the funky arrangement. The rhythm section create a sultry backdrop. Lovestruck and tongue-tied, Hal’s insecurity shines through, as he pleads” “Call Me if you can.” His vocal soars above the arrangement, sweeping harmonies, percussion and the rhythm section framing Hal’s needy vocal.

Friends has a Laurel Canyon sound. This really suits Hal. It allows us to hear him at his very best. Again, the Fender Rhodes, rhythm section and harmonies accompany Hal’s tender vocal. Guitars, strings and gentle harmonies provide the perfect backdrop to Hal’s vocal. They’re the perfect foil to Hal’s vocal. His vocal is heartfelt and seductive during this paean. Especially when he sings: “who makes better lover than Friends.”

Hal’s version of She’s A Women transforms The Beatles standard. It’s a fusion of funk, soul, jazz and AOR where new life and meaning is breathed into a familiar track. There’s an urgency in Hal’s vocal. His vocal veers between understated to powerful. Gradually, the band kick loose. The Laurel Canyon sound influence is present. There’s also a nod to Steely Dan. This is a apparent later in the track, when the jazz influence shines through. Along with what appears to be a crack band, Hal transforms She’s A Women into something Lennon and McCartney probably never even envisaged.

A vocoder opens You Win I Loose. It adds an almost eerie, futuristic sound. Then it’s all change. Blazing horns are a game-changer. Short, sharp bursts set the scene for Hal’s needy, sultry vocal. Soul, funk and AOR melts into one. The rhythm section and horns supply the funk, while the harmonies supply the soul. As for Hal, his vocal is a fusion of AOR and soul. Dance-floor friendly, soulful and with hooks aplenty, You Win I Loose is something a hidden gem.

Just a piano accompanies Hal’s vocal on the Laurel Canyon influenced This Time Around. It’s one of the highlights of This Is Love. Partly, that’s because of the understated, melancholy arrangement. It meanders along, the rhythm section and tender, cooing harmonies playing starring roles. Then when the drama builds, a rocky guitar adds the finishing touch to what’s easily, the highlight of This Is Love.

Babe I Want You draws inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, eighties dance music and soul. It’s a melting pot of influences. Bubbling synths, chiming guitars and thunderous drums drive the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Hal’s vocal veers between needy urgent and pleading. A saxophone soars above the arrangement, before banks of synths and drums power the arrangement along. They add to the drama and emotion of Hal’s desperate vocal.

By Now sees the synth set the scene for Hal’s emotive vocal. Synthetic strings sweep in, while the understated rhythm provide the backdrop provide the backdrop for Hal’s wistful vocal. Missing his partner, he imagines she’s missing him, and is about to phone him. That call doesn’t come and it’s only then that Hal sings: “By Now I know how much I love her.” Just like This Time Around, Hal’s at his best delivering ballads which are musical tour de forces.

Sam Cooke’s You Send Me is an oft-covered song, where the definitive version has been recorded. So, bringing something new to the song isn’t easy. However, Hal brings something new to the song. He mixes AOR, soul and even funk with drama and emotion. His vocal is tender and impassioned. Meanwhile a piano, rhythm section and guitars provide an an arrangement that veers between understated and dramatic. Later, the addition of sensual harmonies prove to be the perfect foil to Hal’s heartfelt delivery of some familiar lyrics. This results in a new take on a classic track.

Keep The Fire Burning closes This Is Love, the third Hal Bradbury penned song. Synths bubble while the rhythm section and guitar combine, creating a backdrop for Hal’s tender, lovestruck vocal. The arrangement meanders along, before it decides to reveals its funky secrets. When things get funky, briefly, Hal reminds me of Dan Hartman. After that, Hal’s band veer between the meandering and funky side of the arrangement. Rocky guitars and soulful, tender harmonies accompany Hal’s vocal which is a fusion of AOR, soul, emotion and power. This shows another side of Hal Bradbury, who has proven to be a versatile singer on This Is Love.

So, that’s the story of This Is Love. It features ten tracks where Hal Bradbury takes the listener on the equivalent of a magical mystery tour. Everything from AOR, folk, funk, pop, soul and even reggae can be heard on This Is Love. That’s why I’d describe This Is Love as eclectic. The first time you hear This Is Love, you never know what direction the album is heading. There’s no clues as to where the album is heading. Beautiful ballads and dance tracks sit side-by-side with funky workouts. Throughout This Is Love, one thing remains the same, the quality of Hal’s vocal.

During This Is Love, Hal’s vocal style can be best described being soulful and influenced by the Laurel Canyon sound. Having said that, he’s able to cope with funky workouts and dance tracks. However, without a doubt, Hal’s at his best combining soul and AOR. That’s what he does best. He can make lyrics come to life. If emotion, heartbreak or drama is required, Hal can make it sound as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. This is the case with other people’s lyrics and the songs Hal wrote. Hal Bradbury was, after all, a talented singer and songwriter. Sadly, commercial success eluded him.

A few years after Hal released This Is Love, he found himself working on building sites around Hawaii. He hadn’t enjoyed the commercial success his music deserved. Maybe the problem was, This Is Love was too eclectic? If you listen to any of the classic Laurel Canyon albums, they were much more focused. They didn’t jump from genre to genre. Hal, maybe, was trying to be all things to all people. He was wanting to appeal to as many people as possible. That was all very well, but it presented a problem.

Whilst Hal was capable of seamlessly switching between musical genres, this meant he was hard to market. Similarly, when it came to describing the music on This Is Love it wasn’t easy. After all, it wasn’t just AOR and soul, there were funk and dance tracks? This has always been a problem with artists as versatile as Hal Bradbury. It’s often resulted in success eluding them.

That’s what happened to Hal Bradbury. There was nothing wrong with the quality of music on This Is Love. No. The quality is undeniable. Sadly, This Is Love passed most people by. Since then, This Is Love has remained one of music’s best kept secrets. The only people privy to this musical secret were a few record collectors. They recognised the undoubted quality of Hal Bradbury’s debut album This Is Love.

Now over thirty years after the release of This Is Love has been reappraised and is perceived as “a masterpiece of Modern Soul and AOR”  and is another album that deserves to be heard by the wider audience that it so richly deserves. 

Cult Classic: Hal Bradbury-This Is Love.

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